by Peggy Elliott
From the Editor: The following piece first appeared in I Can Feel Blue on Mondays, the nineteenth in the NFB's Kernel Book series of publications to educate the public about blindness. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:
"It's all in how you look at it." A common phrase we usually take to mean something like, "What do you think about the matter?" But in this case the meaning is intended to be quite literal.
We who are blind have learned that there are indeed many ways to look and that frequently things that might seem to be entirely visual need hardly involve the eye at all. Peggy Elliott is Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what she has to say:
We have a big, hundred-year-old house with lots of wood in it, including big window frames around the twenty-nine windows on the first and second floors. But we hadn't gotten around to curtains beyond sheers for quite a few years. Last year we bit the bullet.
Both my husband Doug and I are blind. We decided to have an interior decorator named Kathy help us choose window treatments. She came, measured, left, and called us a week or so later to come down and see what she had for suggestions.
Kathy showed us five or six alternatives for the twenty-two windows we were addressing. All highlighted the beautiful wood, which we approved of, but we didn't like most of her choices. Kathy would put the sample book on the counter and describe her idea as we touched the samples with our hands and assessed her words according to the look we were seeking. Most of the samples were patterned or striped, and some had lace or frilly stuff as accents. We listened, touched, and hoped for better choices.
When Kathy got to one of the last choices, we both knew it was the one for our home. It was simple—off-white material with a bright swag for the downstairs living spaces. We picked for the three rooms upstairs as well, staying simple as we went.
I didn't want Kathy to think we were rejecting her choices, so I said after a while that we just like simple stuff. Kathy replied: "Well, if someone walks into your house and says that this looks like Kathy did it, then I've failed. I want to help you express your taste, not to impose mine." I felt better about rejecting other options after that.
The curtains are all installed now. Kathy was so pleased with our choice for the main living spaces that she has photographed the result to show to other customers. It was the right choice for us and for our house.
But my husband got a little carried away. After we did the windows, I started saying that we needed to take a year off, take a breather, not spend any more money while we recovered from the cost of beautifying our home. Doug ignored me completely.
He's always wanted to fulfill my life dream of having a grandfather clock. We were so pleased with the curtains that he went ahead and got me a clock for my birthday. It's beautiful. It's over six feet tall, hand-made of cherry wood with beveled glass insets, and chimes beautifully without being overwhelming. The very best part is that my clock was made for us by a blind friend.
We know a blind person who loves to make things. When my husband first considered getting the clock (even after I pleaded for financial restraint, I might add), he immediately thought of our blind friend, whose work is careful, precise, and always lovely.
Now, when people enter our dining room, they say: "Oooooh." The curtains look as though they've always been there--just right for the house. In between two of the dressed-up windows stands my clock, causing the "Oooooh." All who have seen it want one for themselves.
Ordinary stories? Doesn't everyone decorate and give precious gifts to loved ones? Yes, and blind people do the same thing. We know what we like, have just as good or bad taste as others, and express that taste in the homes we live in.
But Doug and I have the good luck and good sense to belong to the National Federation of the Blind, which has taught us to believe in ourselves, not only in getting jobs, paying bills, and working in our communities but in the other areas of living such as choosing how our home is to look. Through the Federation we have learned that we can touch things and listen to descriptions to decide what things look like and then choose the things that express ourselves.
Without the self-confidence gained through our blind friends in the Federation, we might have let Kathy choose, thinking her sight was more important than our taste. But not us!
And who ever heard of going to a blind person for fine craftsmanship? We have. Not every blind person is a fine craftsman, but our friend Mickey is as good a craftsman as anyone I know, blind or sighted.
It all comes down to how you look at it, and we have learned through the Federation to look at ourselves as capable, competent people and to look at other blind people the same way. Choose our own curtains? You bet, and they're in the decorator's book of choices. Go to a blind craftsman for a lovely gift? You bet. And we're the envy of everyone we know.